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Federal Judge Finds Seneca Resources Can Challenge Injection Well Ban in Pennsylvania

A federal judge has ruled that Seneca Resources Corp. has standing to challenge a township ordinance in Northwest Pennsylvania that bans underground injection wells that dispose of oil and natural gas wastewater.

Seneca filed suit in February against the ordinance, which was passed by Highland Township in Elk County in 2013. Unlike West Virginia and Ohio, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has regulatory primacy over all types of injection wells in Pennsylvania. Seneca had received a federal permit from the EPA to convert some of its natural gas wells in the township into injection wells, and it had applied for a state permit as well.

Highland Township is located in Seneca's Western Development Area. The ordinance banned injection wells in the township and invalidated some wells that have already been permitted by state and federal regulators. Seneca had brought the challenge to prevent the township's board of supervisors from enforcing the ordinance, arguing that it prevents the company from converting its natural gas wells into injection wells.

But a federal magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania denied the township's motion to dismiss Seneca's complaint for lack of standing. The township claimed that the company had no legal standing because it hadn't obtained a permit from the state.

The judge found, however, that Seneca has standing to proceed with its case because the ordinance had forced a delay and the suspension of the state’s permit review The judge also found that a review by the state Department of Environmental Protection would would remove any harm and restore Seneca's constitutional rights to do business.

The law firm Saul Ewing LLP, which was not involved in the case, said on its website that with the increase in similar ordinances across the state, the case is an important one in verifying that companies have standing to challenge them.

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